The 2017/18 NBA season has seen more three-pointers shot that any other season in history. That broke a record set in 2016/17. The beyond-the-arc revolution has changed the shape of the game, with the ability to hit the three often preferred to size.
There has been a wave of backcourt NBA stars. Partly because of their ability to shoot the three, partly down to a change in style. Sport has always had trends in approach, and basketball is no different. We are at the heart of the three-point era, provoked by the historical success of the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors, through the unstoppable Splash Brothers, altered the way basketball is played.
Guards have always been, and always will be, integral to any basketball team. That’s no revolution and will not change however much fluctuation there is in style. Whether wanting to shoot threes or work towards elite post players, teams need players who can stretch the court and create.
Pelicans Lead the Way
Assigning positions can be clumsy, but – whether as forwards or centres -- there’s a clear return of the towering big men in the NBA at the moment. One team who epitomise this are the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans would have been realistic contenders had they remained healthy, and it would have been on the back of two of the best bigs in the league.
Anthony Davis (6’10”) and DeMarcus Cousins (6’11”) are as formidable a duo as it gets. Cousins’ injury left Davis carrying New Orleans, and in another year could have seen Davis pick up the MVP award.
The key to Davis and Cousins is their versatility. They, like many others, have combined the traditional post play and rebounding of big men with the ability to shoot not only mid-range, but from beyond-the-arc. That is a potentially lethal combination, and few teams, if any, would have been able to guard the duo in the playoffs.
Davis is likely to take the centre spot in the All-NBA First Team. Well deserved, of course, given his stunning season, including his 35 point-per-game February.
Watch out NBA
Cousins and Davis are not alone in their adaptation. This new era for big men in the NBA might be led by the Pelicans teammates, but there is a wave of 6’10” and above stars taking the league by storm.
Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns are prominent names. The pair are Davis’ two main contenders for All-NBA honours. Embiid recently turned 24, Towns is just 22. Both standing at 7’0”, they are as good as unstoppable scorers in the paint.
Embiid and Towns have proven themselves as elite offensive players. Each have had 50+ point nights this season, with season averages over 22ppg and 11rpg. Unlike past eras, though, control of the paint is not enough. Each average over one three-pointer per game, while shooting at a solid percentage from deep.
Towns has work to do defensively, and health is always a concern for Embiid, but there is no doubt the pair are on course for great careers.
Even a few years ago eurostepping seven-footers like Embiid and Towns would have been astonishing. Now, they seem like the logical evolution of the game.
If Davis and Cousins are the leaders of the class, Embiid and Towns are the next in command. The injured Kristaps Porzingis and inconsistent Nikola Jokic are worthy of a mention, too. Both players have the potential to be perennial All-Stars and franchise players for the Knicks and Nuggets respectively.
The three-point bubble shows no sign of bursting. The criteria to become a 6’10”-plus All-Star has changed, it demands so much more from the bigs. When a player can meet all of those demands, however, it leads to some of the best basketball you will ever see.
Combining mobility with size, rebounding with three-point shooting, makes for play in keeping with the current, all-action NBA.
The last player over 6’9” to win an MVP award was future Hall-of-Famer Dirk Nowitzki in 2006/07. Perhaps it won’t be long before that barren run is over.